St. Clare was born into a wealthy family in Northern Italy, in 1193. She came, like St Francis, from Assisi. When she was eighteen, she heard St Francis preaching. Clare had a profound religious experience upon hearing the words of St Francis. She decided to devote her life to God.
On Palm Sunday, she ran away from her home and went to seek St. Francis. She was determined to lead a religious life, but her family wanted her to marry. Clare found St. Francis, and declared her intention to devote herself to God. The saint supported the girl and her decision from his home town. He urged her to cut her hair and to wear a sack only tied by a cord. Clare then went to live in a convent. Her family tried to pressure her into returning home and marrying, but to no avail. Eventually, her family relented and indeed she was soon joined by her sister in the convent.
In 1203, Clare moved with her sister to a convent at San Damiano, near Assisi. She was soon joined by her newly widowed mother and other female relatives. Clare soon gained a reputation for holiness, and attracted many followers. Clare’s example inspired many by her life of holiness and her vow of poverty. Other women joined Clare and her family members, and they became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano". They lived a simple life of poverty and austerity, and lived secluded from the world. St. Francis encouraged the small community, and provided them with a Rule, which was stricter than the Rule of Benedict, the usual rule for convents and monasteries.
St. Clare was the leader of the community, under the direction of St. Francis. When the saint died, Clare became Prioress of the community. The Pope recognized Clare’s new order, and eventually it would become known as the Order of St Clare. The new order would soon became renowned for its austerity and strict vow of poverty.
St. Clare energetically promoted her new order. She helped to establish convents all over Europe. She resisted efforts by successive Popes to force her to accept the Rule of St. Benedict. St. Clare remained loyal to the Rule of St. Francis and his idea of the Christian life. The new order became very popular and spread throughout Europe.
St. Clare died in the convent of San Damiano in 1253, and was canonized two years later by the Pope.
Her order became known as the Poor Clares after its founder and guiding spirit.
Many miracles were performed by St. Clare. On one occasion, the mortal enemy of the Papacy, Emperor Frederick II, was threatening to destroy Assisi. St. Clare left her convent with the Blessed Sacrament in her hands, and at the sight of her the emperor’s army was filled with a mysterious sense of dread and fled in terror.
St. Clare believed that love of Christ was essential:
“Totally love Him, Who gave Himself totally for your love.”
She also taught that we should put our love into practice by imitating Christ:
“Gaze upon Him, consider Him, contemplate Him, as you desire to imitate Him."
The Order of St. Clare, also known as the ‘Poor Clares’, continues the work of its founder to this day.